Neil Bailey Swimming is a business with family values, which has been the inspiration for our approach to teaching swimming – “teaching people to swim as if they were members of our own family”.
Neil Bailey Swimming originally started as a team of volunteers from Bourne End Swimming Club, who were delivering lessons to the local community at Court Garden Swimming Pool in Marlow. Two things happened to us as a group that highlighted the need for a fresh, more inclusive experience of learning to swim. Firstly, we began to be regularly approached by parents with children who had additional needs and required extra help in the water to participate in swimming lessons, we also started to meet several families who had children that did not get on well with traditional poolside instruction.
To get results for these children, we had to develop new strategies of teaching – more specifically, a less poolside orientated teaching method. Secondly, we were approached by two different School Sports Partnerships, to help provide lessons to a much larger volume of children at or about primary school age (at the time 65% of primary school aged children could not swim.) To deliver this, we were given a budget of £6000 per annum, so we began running Top Up Swimming crash courses to Key Stage Two children. This process quickly highlighted a huge latent demand for swimming lessons across all ethnic and social groups that was not being met. The first course we ran had 120 people join up the night before our first lesson – the courses were a great success and we were at peak, teaching 600 a week.
Following these valuable lessons regarding the current state of the local learn to swim provision Neil Bailey contacted six local schools in the area, offering to help them save, build or upgrade their pools knowing that in order to learn to swim, there must be access to the right facilities. Whilst contacts were made and projects discussed two became reality; one of the schools worked with us from the planning stage, and built a pool we now use. Another worked with us and together we raised the necessary funds to start school swimming lessons for years 1 to 6 for most of the school year.
We viewed these projects as a great learning curve, and by now had serious levels of experience; we had seen pools built, and had helped fundraise several million pounds for more pool time, which meant more swimmers and to teach them we built a great swimming teaching team from scratch.
2010 was a fantastic year for Neil Bailey Swimming. We worked with the Holywell Mead Pool Steering Group, where Neil was the chair and persuaded Wycombe District Council to revisit their decision to close the Holywell Mead Pool – a beautiful open-air lido, in an award winning park. It was subsequently reopened and renamed The Wycombe Rye Lido. High March School opened a stunning new 20-metre swimming pool, built to a great standard and we start running intensive holiday courses there – for which local demand was huge. We also helped Cedar Park School raise the money and create a capital project to roof their open-air pool for all weather, all year use – which for a state primary school was a courageous and well-executed project.
For 9 years we grew our team and in that time appointed Alice Peacock (a Bourne End Junior Swimming Club volunteer and original NBS teacher) delivery manager – responsible for leading our team and maintaining our high standards both in the pool and dryside. We introduced some new offers to the marketplace one of which was our holiday1-2-1 lessons which were a huge success and led to several requests daily for a term time version. Whilst we had only been teaching children in this time their parents began asking us for lessons too – before we knew it we needed a new venue to cater to these offers and this is when we turned our attention to private pools. This was a slow process using a carefully considered marketing campaign but eventually our efforts were fruitful, and we found not 1 but three private pools during 2019/2020.
Coming up to our 10 year anniversary we wanted to celebrate and pay recognition to how we started in the first place, by getting the community swimming! In December 2019 we partnered with Wycombe Abbey and Bucks School Swimming Forum to deliver a specialist version of our highly recommended group intensive swimming lessons. We donated 360 spaces across four days for free to our local community. Such a great week of swimming, and such a wonderful way to celebrate and draw a close to the end of term.
Whilst 2019 had been a great year we ventured into 2020 wondering what we could expect, little did we know it would be the most challenging year yet.
We closed our doors in March 2020 for the first lockdown and for the first time had no idea when they would reopen. However we quickly got to work, Alice wrote a return to business plan to cover credits, restarts, summer offers and we signed this off during the first weeks of lockdown.
Neil started to write our bio security model, knowing that our return and success of our return would be rely on this he went on an early years infectious disease control course. Many hours of work and at least 10 versions later it was complete – we signed this off in May.
Then we waited; for guidance, for updates, for a timeline.
STA and Swimming England released their guidance and we decided as long as ours was compliant and that we met the Environmental Health and Public England Health criteria we would stick to ours. We compared ours with many major countries swimming guidance – we looked at the control mechanisms for SARS and Ebola.
Then amazingly we got a final re-open date from 25th July and we went to work again to build our Summer programme and Autumn programme. We expected most of our competition to get ready for business and get back to delivering to their community but there was radio silence.
Summer was huge success, we felt so grateful to be able to return to what we love and to see our colleagues and customers again. Our parents adapted to our new operations, our teachers stepped up and we received great support from our pool owners.
Autumn term arrives and we are were our way to full capacity – Neil and Alice were in the pool, poolside and the phones, emails and meeting parents and pool owners. However we didn’t get all the way to the end of the term before the tier 4 and eventual lockdown 2 took hold. This time however it was different, we knew we can return, that we have the support from our amazing families. So we took this time to rebuild and develop ready for our next restart.
Summer 2021 was another busy one as we worked on an exciting community project ‘Missed Opportunity Swimming Programme.’ This was funded by a Sport England investment of Department of Education funding. Aimed to support schools to relaunch extra-curricular opportunities for children and young people and reopen facilities for community use. Noticing the lack of swimming provision for children throughout the pandemic and barriers in place to prevent children learning a life saving skill we worked with Bucks School Swimming Partnership and Leap to deliver 4 weeks of free swimming lessons to 204 swimmers. https://www.leapwithus.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bucks-MOSP-Report-Summer-2021-Final-1.pdf
As the year passed we see some venue changes – find a fabulous new private pool and reach our highest enrolment numbers to date. We reach sold out and start to consider changes to our business to reflect this ‘against the odds’ growth.
This change comes in the form of a transition to a privately owned limited company – from the 1st January 2022 Neil Bailey Swimming will become Neil Bailey Swimming Ltd – this company shall be equally owned and run by Neil Bailey and Alice Peacock.
Using our brilliant team of teachers in the water, we support and encourage children to become independent. We demonstrate and help replicate good body positioning and movement, in order to deliver the lesson to all children whatever their preferred style of learning.
Refine, Repeat, Reinforce.
During the lesson, the teachers break down and re-build the strokes to correct technique. As they do this, they will be observing the swimmers to assess their body position, leg kick and arm movement and breathing technique in the water. This process will be repeated with all the strokes again and again until we have built up a strong imprint of how to swim well, how to stay safe in the water and how to have fun in the water – which is an important aspect of the lesson too!
Our approach which we have developed and refined having taught thousands of people to swim, focuses on breaking down water skills, fears and limitations and then working out a way forward, to ensure that we are progressing on a sound and practical water-based learning journey.
We don’t acknowledge ability with badges and levels – to us that is not what swimming is about. Swimming is a continuous journey of learning and even the best swimmers can improve on something. Our inclusive lessons mean that everyone can achieve in the swimming pool regardless of their physical abilities, strengths and weaknesses – we don’t hold children back as we believe that skills that are hard today might be performed with ease once other skills are established. It’s less about ticking boxes by the end of term and more about trying hard each week, as well as progression at the individual’s own pace, which is why we continuously monitor progress and make group changes accordingly.
Neil Bailey Swimming believes that children learn best in a comfortable, secure environment, hence we only use swimming pools that are safe, warm and suited to the abilities of those who we are teaching. Our fantastic team of teachers have a diverse range of experience that helps us provide a variety of styles and solutions when it comes to finding what works best for our swimmers. Neil Bailey Swimming is continually working to improve our services, knowing that learning to swim is one of the most important lessons in life and is something that should be a fun and positive experience.